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Rainier School employees take their complaints to the streets
Employees upset over loss of 18 jobs at Buckley institution
By Shawn Skager
Members of the Local 491 state workers union, representing workers at Rainier School in Buckley, took to the streets Sunday to protest the loss of 18 jobs and the closing of one of the houses at the school.
According to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), which operates the school, the cuts come on the heels of a Washington State Legislature mandate to cut mid-management positions and reduce operating costs at five residential housing institutions for people with developmental disabilities, including Rainier School.
In a press release issued by DSHS in July, the organization stated it's intention to cut $3.7 million from its budget, as mandated by the Legislature in 2000.
"Staff costs represent from 80 to 90 percent of the budgets of the RHC's (Residential Housing Centers), which means we will have to distribute the residents more efficiently at two of the institutions - Rainier and Fircrest," said Linda Johnson, office chief of the DSHS's Division of Developmental Disabilities. "Fircrest and Rainier are the two largest RHC's and they will have to take the largest staff cuts."
Michael Holyan, the local 491 union president who has worked at the Rainier School for more than 30 years as an attendant counselor, said the layoffs and closing of the residential house represent a shift in the focus of serving developmentally disabled persons - from institutions to community based care.
"To be honest, the administrative staff at DSHS that has made it clear quite often that there should not be any institution in the state of Washington," he said. "So we've been told that the future of the RHC's is non-existent, there is no longer a place for them and that the clients need to be in the community.
"The community, however, is saturated," Holyan said. "They can't get the services that they need. What we're saying is that the RHC's are a very viable alternative to the communities, because you have doctors, OTs (occupational therapists), PTs (physical therapists), psychologists, psychiatrists, speech pathologists and everything else already in place. We can provide the services to the community. Bring them to us and let us help them."
Holyan said the RHCs could be used to augment the community focused programs.
"RHCs are very viable," he said. "Trying to get that point across has been a very hard uphill battle."
Holyan said the lack of communication between the staff and the school's administration has been strained.
"Since I've worked here I've never seen the morale so low," he said. "The new administrator and the administrative staff are very heavy handed. This is not showing respect for the staff and also not showing respect for the clients."
According to Holyan, he hand delivered a petition of no-confidence in the Rainier School's administrator Neil Crowley.
"I hand delivered the no-confidence petition with 526 signatures to Gov. Gregoire," Holyan said.
Charlene Blanton, a 17-year veteran of the school, works in the house scheduled to be closed.
Currently the state is in the process of transferring the 15 clients in the house to other houses or programs.
Although Blanton said her current position was being cut, because of her seniority she is guaranteed a comparable job at the school.
She is concerned for her clients, however.
"They are keeping everyone in the dark, including the clients," she said. "It's very bad and they (the clients) are reacting because of it. They are very high-functioning and know something is going on. They still don't know where they are going and they are starting to get upset."
"That's why we're here today, it's mainly for the clients and the closing of the houses," Holyan said. "We're here to give the best care we can to the clients."
Shawn Skager can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.